The drive from Beaver Creek, Yukon Territory to our final Alaskan destination, Skagway, was spectacular. Best of all, we managed to cross the border back into Alaska without incident. (I was pretty convinced our passports were flagged after our last Alaskan border crossing- the border “crashing” event). Our Skagway “home” was a cabin at the Chilkoot Trail Outpost. The Outpost was down a 7 mile unpaved, narrow road with blind curves. Since it was a busy road, driving back and forth to town was quite an adventure. For some reason Dad is not a fan of “dangling over precipices”. It was well-worth the commute, though. While downtown Skagway was very touristy, Chilkott was a peaceful getaway. Four grizzlies were also in residence out there..and they never get old!
Went for solo hikes in both Seward and Skagway. Nothing like being out in the “wilderness” alone to make you realize how small you are.
Spent another day in Seward on the water. Kayaked across Resurrection Bay in the morning, stopped on the beach of an uninhabited island for lunch and a hike, then sailed back to port. So good for the soul. I’m not sure which was more colorful..the scenery or our kayak guide and sailboat captain. Both were full of interesting stories. The captain had even lived with a native tribe in northern Alaska and helped them hunt whales. Not a job for wimps!
Only place in Kodiak where I would let Dad cross the road 🙂
Spent our 2nd day in Kodiak paddling across big water under the VERY watchful eye of our drill sergeant/guide, Wendy. Although quick to scold, she did an excellent job helping these loud lower-48ers sneak up on seals, otters, and puffins. It was Dad and my 1st attempt at paddling a tandem kayak, and after a lot of loud paddle clanking (and possibly some muttered bad words), we settled into a rhythm..and even made it back to shore without either of us swimming!
“If you’re going to be a bear, be a grizzly…” is a phrase I have worn out over the past few years. However, never in my wildest imagination did I think I would get the chance to come as close to being a real grizzly as I did the other day. As soon as our plane landed on Kodiak Island, Dad and I hopped onto another plane (see Dad’s post about the Widgeon) and flew to Katmai National Park and Preserve to see the brown bears (Kodiak grizzlies).
Our guide, Jo, has been taking wide-eyed “mainlanders” to Katmai for the past 10 years, and she seemed to know all the bears personally. Have to admit, it made things a bit less frightening to have her there interpreting the bears’ every move and look. She completely understood their communication and used that to slowly get us close. As Jo put it, “the bears have extremely expressive body language.” For example, when they tense up, the hump on their back becomes more prominent. On the other end of the spectrum, they put their heads down and/or turn their hind end toward you when they want to show non-aggression.
To get close, we hiked across meadows and forded streams in hip boots. By completely immersing ourselves in their habitat, we were able to silently watch bears dig for clams, fish for salmon, snooze, and play. Besides all the “singles”, we also came across a mom with one spring cub, a mom with 2 spring cubs, and a mom with a 2nd year cub. These bears are seriously good moms..VERY protective and nurturing. We watched one mom chase a wolf she had been feuding with away from her cubs and another mom chase off two bears who were play fighting in a river near her cub. We also watched a mom stop, drop, and roll over so her whining cubs could nurse. Fun fact about brown bear cubs: they are born while their mom is hibernating and they nurse for several months while she “sleeps”. At birth they are naked, blind, and only weigh one pound. See videos. Love those bears!!
Even the rear-view mirror views while driving across Alaska are distracting! We somehow managed to turn a 3.5 hour drive (according to the GPS) into an all day drive. Too many spectacular sights to blow by. Tried to capture some in photos, but as always, they don’t even begin to do the scenery justice.
After having seen Denali by land and air, we rafted down a 22.5 mile stretch of the Nenana (rhymes with banana..so fun to say) River which runs along the eastern border of the park. The Nenana is glacier-fed, meaning ~24 hours before it arrived at the stretch we were riding down, the water was ice. Nothing more refreshing than a face-full of glacier water first thing in the morning! Luckily, we were well-outfitted. I had on everything in my suitcase (anyone who knows me, knows this is not an exaggeration), plus they gave us full-body dry suits to pull on over everything else. I had a smile frozen to my face the whole time. Such an amazing experience. Made even better by the world’s best guide, Tim. He not only let me “ride the bull” (sat on very front of raft with feet dangling over water and rode rapids), but he also treated us to a very well-delivered, well-timed rendition of a song from Charlie and the Chocolate factory as we cruised down Train Wreck Rapid. Check out video clip!!
We took a 90 mile bus trip from the park entrance to the small mining community of Kantishna, which lies within the park. The bus meandered along a very curvy..and sometimes nerve racking..road through the park. We crossed several passes with dramatic views, but the highlights of the journey for me were the animals. We saw a Moose, Dall sheep, Caribou, and a mama Grizzly with her two cubs.
Arrived at one of the most wild and wonderful places I have ever been..Denali National Park and Preserve. The park is the size of the state of Massachusettes (over 6 million acres), and the rugged terrain is unmarred by man. Access around the park is highly restricted with only authorized vehicles being able to travel the roads and NO vehicles of any sort allowed off the road. The vastness and natural beauty is overwhelming, and wildlife runs the show. The “crown jewel” is Mt. McKinley, the highest peak in north America (20,237 feet). The area is very seasonal, but the “characters” who flock there for the summer add a unique/quirky edge to the area. Dad and I fit right in 🙂 See posts on bus trip, flight, and whitewater for pics of park.